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"Cloud lies to the north of the river and dream to the south. The ancient Yunmeng reaches as far as Qi Zhou on the east, Zhi River on the west, Jing Mountain on the north, and Qingcao on the south"—such was the description of the Great Lake of Yunmen of the Pre-Qin Period.

In its heyday, the great lake was as vast as 26 000 km^2. The sediment deposition in the later years gradually divided Yunmeng Lake into two parts. The part to the north of the Yangtze River became a swamp; a vast lake remained in the part to the south of the Yangtze River, which was Dongting Lake.

Dongting Lake used to cover an area as large as nearly 6000 km^2 in ancient times. However, because of the continuous infiltration of large quantities of sediment and the unbridled modern activities such as lake reclamation and dam-building, it finally shrank to an area of 2623 km^2.

There was a time when Yangtze River did not flood much, for Dongting Lake had acted as the natural flood discharge area. However, after the modern state was established, the Dongting Lake region had become a frequently flooded area. With its shrinking size came the sharp decline in its flood storage capacity. Together with the influx from the four rivers of Xiangjiang, Zijiang, Yuanjiang, and Lishui, the lake was overwhelmed. 

Dongting Lake had flooded 35 times in the recent fifty years alone.

"Tsk, the timeline doesn't fit!" Inside a hotel room, Gu Yu put down an information book and murmured, "Recent 50 years… the three iron shackles were found in 1980… oh, no, in the Song Dynasty, but were not moved then… there were records of flooding in the Qing Dynasty, so they were not here to suppress the flood."

He then took out his phone and saw wechat messages coming in from Xiaozhai, Zhang Jintong, Wu Songbai, and some others. Ok, he found this mixture a bit embarrassing as well, but they were cultivating in a modern world. There was no reason to abandon such a convenient way of communication.

Duel in the future would probably involve the two parties exchanging threats over the chatting app: wait and see, you motherf**ker, I'm tagging my man right now! My master uncle is on his way; he'll burn you with his thunder!

Or: wow, Senior, I'm infatuated with your fair skin, lovely face, tiny waist, and long legs! Please add me as a friend!

Or: shocking news! Fairy Peony has checked into a hotel room in the middle of the night with Perfected Man Hollow in exchange for a higher ranking! Exclusive on the cultivation world behind closed curtains!

Gosh, the thought of all that!

Ok, enough with the digression. After discovering the strange shackles, he sent a group message to a few people, who took it very seriously and offered their opinions. They had mostly arrived at the same conclusion: the iron shackles were to suppress either flood or some monster.

Wu Songbai was the most certain one, claiming it to be used for "stopping the calamity of a water dragon". Gu Yu then found some popular science books on the local history. After flipping through them, he had ruled out the theory of suppressing floods. So the other option was the only option.

Water dragon, wow, it would be so much bigger than a ricefield eel. He almost began to get excited!

Gu Yu could foresee that with the changing going on in Dongting Lake, it was only a matter of time before it devoured the surrounding towns and cities. He did not need to report to anyone, though. From what he saw along the way, the government had already made plans for it and was evacuating the people in perfect order.

Because nothing observable had showed up so far, he did not look too deeply into it. After a two-day stay in Yueyang, he went to check out Junshan Island.

Junshan was a tiny island with the most remarkable terrain. It consisted of 72 mountains of all sizes and was listed as the 11th blessed land of the country. There were quite a few famous spots on the island; he focused on two of them only, namely, "Bell that Flew Here" and "Liu Yi Well".

The legend of the Bell that Flew Here took place during the Yang Yao rebellion. When the imperial government sent troops to encircle and suppress the insurgent army, a giant bell suddenly descended from the sky, waking the latter up with its tolls. They then fought back the enemies.

The original one was 30 m high, needed several people to get their arms around, and weighed over 2000 kg, but was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The current one was a replica.

Liu Yi Well was pretty much in the same condition. A cement well sat on a cement platform; some stairs were built into the an opening on the side of the well so that the tourists could walk down and touch the water.

What was more remarkable was there there were actually two Liu Yi Wells, one here and the other in Dongshan, Taihu Lake. Liu Yi was apparently a very busy man, dating daughter of the Dongting Dragon King one day and the daughter of Taihu Dragon King 1 the other…

After his probing around for the past few years, Gu Yu finally reached the conclusion that most of the folklore with a mythological twist was nothing but fabricated stories. The real treasure still came from the ancient masters who had left behind a good reputation, brilliant records, and orthodox Taoist teachings.

Actually, one question that he had been preoccupied with was: had "gods" ever existed in Chinese culture?

The ancient belief in the mortal world transformed into that of the immortal world, but both had written records to refer to. Gods, however, only existed in folklore. According to " The Investiture of Gods 2 ", gods were civil servants of the heavenly court, and their titles were bestowed by the Jade Emperor. However, whether or not this Jade Emperor ever existed was unclear.

If there were gods, then where did those great masters that had reached the states of Earthly Immortal or even Heavenly Immortal come in? Which was mightier, an immortal or a god? Or were gods simply the embodiment of immortals?

But if there were no gods, many of the beliefs and worships of the Taoist community would not make sense. For instance, the sects following Wang Ruoxu's teachings worshipped Spiritual Official Wang, who was a god. However, Wang was the pupil of Celestial Master Sa, an immortal.

Another example would be the sect of Maoshan, whose many talismans were using the "god-inviting spell". Where did those "gods" come from?

Gu Yu inclined to the view that there were no gods and that they were derivations of immortals. However, there wasn't enough information to go on at this stage and he had to put it aside for the time being.

Nov. 10th, frosty.

With the day of the contest approaching, eyes all over the country were fixed upon Longhu Mountain. Ever since the government sneakily spread out the rumor of "with the rise of Taoist skills, also come the monsters", all temples were overwhelmed with visitors.

Some would not leave until they were admitted as a pupil, some spent a fortune for the Taoist blessing, while some felt their world turned upside down and were there to yell angrily at somebody for comfort.

As the leading sect of Zhengyi, Longhu Mountain was the star of the show. Streams of vehicle were coming to and fro out of the gate of Celestial Master Temple around the clock, bringing in dignitaries of all levels. It was indeed as said on the couplet on the gate: On Longhu Mountain, the grand chancellor took his residence!

These days, the scene was only becoming more boisterous. People were gathering here from all over the country, especially from the nearby provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Zhejiang, and Anhui. Even the long-distance buses had all their seats taken, let alone the trains.

Buses and private cars arrived in hundreds on a daily basis and the city of Yingtan was filled to the brim.

Bai Yu, a decent 23-year-old local young man of Yueyang, who had just begun working a year ago. He was not handsome, but was big, tall, and a regular gym-goer with wide shoulders, small waist, Adonis belt, the whole shebang.

Despite his appearance of a hunk, his hobbies were on the Otaku side. He had set up a cosplay society with a few friends and would attend all sorts of comic cons.

Seeing that the 13th was coming, he was thrilled with the anticipation and took an annual leave from work to go to Longhu Mountain with his friends.

They actually uniformed up for the occasion—all were in improved version of ancient costumes. They even had matching accessories such as whisks, bronze bells, compasses, etc., which looked quite the part. Swords were out of the question, though, for there were strict rules on that now. Even wooden swords were regulated. 

They tried all they could and finally got themselves some bus tickets. The rest of the passengers jumped at their arrival, thinking there were actually Taoist priests on board. On a second look, however, they realized these were just cosplayers and relaxed.

"Beep, beep!"

The driver hooted the horn a few times when the departure time arrived. Bai Yu was chatting with his friends and looked up at the noise.


He almost jumped out of his seat, for a fellow suddenly got onto the bus without any sound of footsteps as if he was a feather blown in by the wind.

On a second look, he could not help but chuckle. The fellow wore loose long-sleeve shirts and long trousers with ancient-styled knotted buttons, and had a wooden box in one hand… a fellow cosplayer!

The man walked to the seat in front of Bai Yu, put the wooden box onto the luggage rack, and sat down. There was something plainly peaceful about him.

Bai Yu was a talkative one, and struck up a conversation. "Hey there. I see you're going to Longhu Mountain as well."

"Yea, you too?"

"Haha, not just me. Everyone on board this bus is!"

"Is audience allowed there?" The man seemed a little surprised.

"Dunno. I don't really care if they let me go in or not. It's still an experience."

At that point, the bus rumbled and slowly pulled out of the station, heading out of Yueyang into the evening sunlight. Bai Yu suddenly felt he was part of something very big and sighed with emotion. "I would never have dreamed of this day. Isn't it just like the Martial Arts Assembly in the novels? Guests and friends are arriving from every corner of the world to compete for the championship. It will be an event of passion and pride."


Seeing Bai Yu intoxicated in his own imagination, the man couldn't help but make a face of "you poor little fool". He then stopped talking, turned to the other side, and closed his eyes to rest.

TL/N: referring to the ancient novel Dragon King's daughter. Basically, Liu Yi, a poor scholar, helped a damsel in distress who he later found out was the daughter of a Dragon King, and after some complications, he ended up marrying into the dragon family. TL/N: a 16th-century Chinese novel and one of the major vernacular Chinese works in the gods-and-demons (shenmo) genre written during the Ming dynasty. The work combines elements of history, folklore, mythology, legends and fantasy.

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